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While-you-wait spectacles around the corner thanks to nanoscale printing

Innovative nanoscale-level printing technology could speed up the production of everything from ophthalmic glasses to connected devices in the Internet of Things.

Industrial Technologies

Nobody likes to wait for their new glasses to be made. Now, new printing technology of flat optics may dramatically speed up the process for Europeans. Flat optics is a technological development used in a wide variety of devices, including smartphones. The term refers to ultra-fine materials that can manipulate and control light with incredible dexterity. Such metasurfaces are arrays of microscopic optical elements, spaced at sub-wavelength levels. These give opportunities for new physical phenomena and manipulation beyond that seen in 3D materials and could completely revolutionise optics. This finely tuned control over light, and at such small scales, could transform large-scale applications using technologies that depend on or communicate using light. Size and weight are critical to creating successful flat optics. The EU-supported DeLight project has the aim of creating a method to mass produce flat optics using ultra-high-resolution laser printing technology. The new nanoscale laser printing technique is pivotal where size and weight of materials are paramount. “In DeLight, we conducted early innovation activities to analyse the business potential for our novel, on-resonance laser printing technology. An initial list of potential products and paths for a competitive business model was analysed through contact and discussions with commercial players in the photonics market,” says Anders Kristensen, DeLight project coordinator. The project took steps to make printing flat optics commercially viable, including clarifying the technical roadblocks to be overcome. “Through our own research and dialogue with relevant companies, we have described a realistic path forward,” adds Kristensen, professor and head of section, Nano and Bio-physical Systems, at the Technical University of Denmark.

High-tech printing

The laser printing technology offers ultra-high-resolution laser printing on nanotextured, template surfaces – optical metasurfaces. “Individual pixels – called meta-atoms – down to 70 nm in size are opto-thermally modified by resonant optical absorption of light from a focused laser beam,” Kristensen explains. DeLight’s printing technology allows for the production of flat optics at speed and scale. The field of applications is wide, and includes: advanced optical filters used to control beams of light; ophthalmic lenses used in spectacles; and optical sensor technology for use in the Internet of Things. The Technical University of Denmark has so far submitted three international patent applications for the technology.

Sight of the future

“The DeLight early innovation activities resulted in a vision for a university spin-out: to introduce on-demand prescription lenses printed in the shop, while you wait,” notes Kristensen. The speed and precision of the printing means customers will be able to get prescription glasses in a fraction of the time, which could completely disrupt the market for glasses and bring innovations to the sector. The DeLight project will now pursue the business vision for the project in the EIC Pathfinder project ODYSSEY. The Horizon 2020 grant allowed the project to develop the commercial side of the research results from the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies project CHROMAVISION.

Keywords

DeLight, flat optics, spectacles, printing, light, speed

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